Latest update: May 18th, 2012
Yesterday, my wife and I visited the yeshiva high school in Maale Hever, where one of our sons will be learning next year. The settlement is located on the edge of the Judean Desert about ten minutes south of Hevron. As we were driving, I remembered back some 30 years ago to my first trip to Israel, how I was blown away by the biblical scenery along this very same road to the City of our Forefathers. The vineyards of Efrata, the terraced landscapes, the holiness shining off the hills, the realization that King David herded his sheep, here, in these very fields, all filled me with the overwhelming understanding, like a bolt of lightning in the darkness, that if I wanted to sincerely embrace a new life of Torah, as Torah was meant to be lived, in all of its freedom, pride, and holy beauty, then Eretz Yisrael was the “Super Bowl” for a serious Jew.
It is impossible to describe the feeling of a visit to Hevron, where we stopped on our way back to Yerushalayim. It’s a little like visiting your mom and dad after a very long absence. This is where our Nation all started. Not in Brooklyn. Not in Los Angeles. Here in Hevron, the history of our Nation begins, in the field of Machpelah, which remains today just as it was when Avraham purchased it. It is impossible to describe the transcendental feeling in the Tomb of the Patriarchs when you recite the Blessing of Avraham at the beginning of the Amidah prayer, and you are standing, trembling with awe and joy, with the realization that Avraham Avinu is here alongside you, with Yitzhak and Yaacov, here, in Hevron, where all prayers gather from all over the world to receive our father Avraham’s blessing before traveling on to Jerusalem, just a short drive down the road.
After praying, I sat with one of my sons and learned the Parsha with him, here in Hevron, where Jewish education all started, feeling that we were a living part of tradition, carrying the mission of the Jewish People forward, educating my son to be a proud Jew in the Land of our forefathers.
This week’s Torah portion of “Bechutotei” states with crystal clear clarity, again and again, that the exile is a curse and a punishment. It equates the exile with a terrible and frightening disease. Its language is brutal and horrific, leaving no room for misunderstanding. Exile from Eretz Yisrael is the worst punishment that can befall the Jewish People.
Given this terrible predicament, the task of Diaspora Jewry was to survive the exile and prepare the wandering and homeless Jewish community for its awaited return to the Land of Israel. The goal of returning to Israel is emphasized in the Torah, and in the visions of our Prophets again and again, more than any other theme. For nearly 2000 years, we prayed and dreamed about returning to Zion. Then something went terribly wrong. When the State of Israel was established, and we finally had the chance to return home to our Land, the vast majority of Jewish communities in the West turned their backs on the opportunity. Instead of wanting to escape the exile, they chose to stay. In defiance of the clear promises of the Torah, the Prophets, and 2000 years of prayers and dreams, in defiance of the clear discernible fact that God was gathering His outcasts back to Zion, and miraculously rebuilding the new State of Israel into one of the superpowers of the world, the Diaspora communities in the West decided to remain where they were, living amongst the gentiles in foreign lands. Instead of rushing to rebuild Israel, and take part in the long-awaited Redemption that was unfolding for everyone to see, they continued to build and strengthen their bastions in golus. After 2000 years of yearning, when the time came to return, they got cold feet. Yes, with their money, they helped a great deal. Out of love for our homeland and concern for the Jews who were rebuilding it, they reach deep into their pockets and gave. They exerted political pressure on Israel’s behalf. But in the matter of coming themselves, by and large, they failed to heed the call and join the hundreds of thousands of secular pioneers, Sefardi Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Holocaust survivors who were returning to Israel, in accord with ancient prophesies, age-long prayers, and the eternal command of the Torah.
In my humble opinion, with all of its institutions, organizations, synagogues, day schools, and Jewish newspapers, in this important matter, Diaspora Jewry has failed. Yes, for most of the long and dark exile, it waged a mighty and glorious battle, against all odds, to preserve Jewish traditions and keep the light burning, but when the gateway was opened to return to our homeland, it balked. Its task was to keep the remnant of our nation intact until we could return home to Zion, and when the time came, it neglected to get on the boat. Instead of sending their children on aliyah to Israel – they sent checks. Instead of coming to live here – they came for a week-long visit (all 20% of them – the others haven’t bothered to come at all.) And in obvious punishment for their preferring to remain amongst the goyim, assimilation is rising and rising at an unstoppable rate, a hundred thousand Jews per year! The Birthright program is noble indeed, but you cheapen the Land of Israel when you bill it as a 10-day tour. The real birthright of these kids is to live in Israel, not merely to visit. Visiting Israel won’t prevent interfaith marriages. Living here will!
All of the directors and presidents of the Jewish organizations and federations and committees and leagues and unions who didn’t and still don’t call upon their members to pack up and go, they all should be replaced with braver souls. With the scourge of intermarriage decimating our ranks, all of the rabbis who didn’t and still don’t urge their congregations to go en mass to Israel should read through the Torah once again. True, for mature people who are long settled in their ways, the challenge of aliyah is not easy, but any Jewish parent who doesn’t exhort his children to leave the galut and build his or her future in Israel betrays his true duty as a Jewish parent. Every Jewish leader in the Diaspora who doesn’t pour all of his energies into rallying his constituents to make aliyah fails as a Jewish leader. BECAUSE THE WHOLE GOAL OF THE DIASPORA WAS TO SURVIVE THE EXILE AND PREPARE THE JEWS FOR THE DAY WHEN WE COULD RETURN HOME TO ISRAEL – and that became possible on a mass scale 64 years ago with the establishment of Medinat Yisrael!
Living a life of Torah in Israel is the goal of the Torah, of our Prophets, and the goal of our prayers. The Diaspora isn’t meant to last forever. The curse isn’t supposed to be extended and embraced. We are meant to come home.
But when the opportunity arose, something went wrong, went wrong, went wrong, went wrong, went wrong, went wron, went wro, went wr, went w, went, wen, we, w……….Tzvi Fishman
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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